The Irish Times view on food labelling: defending the sausage

MEPs stepped back from a farm lobby-proposed ban on labels using meat terms for vegetarian products

A man holds a box of Nestle’s vegan sausage ‘Incredible Sausage’ (Wunder Wurst) at the Hall of Switzerland during the International Green Week fair in Berlin in January. Photograph: Hayoung Jeon/EPA

A man holds a box of Nestle’s vegan sausage ‘Incredible Sausage’ (Wunder Wurst) at the Hall of Switzerland during the International Green Week fair in Berlin in January. Photograph: Hayoung Jeon/EPA

 

‘What have they got against the British sausage?” Bernard asked Minister James Hacker in an episode of Yes Minister! The sausage was to be rebranded by the EU as an “emulsified, high-fat offal tube”. Well, Hacker admitted ruefully, though ready to die on the ditch for the said sausage, “the average British sausage consists of 32 per cent fat … only 26 per cent meat, mostly gristle, other offcuts, and mechanically recovered meat steamed off the carcass”.

“Europe” is at it again, life imitating art. This time, a victory for sanity and plant-based food campaigners. On Friday MEPs stepped back from a farm-lobby proposed ban, backed by their agriculture committee, on labels using meat terms for vegetarian products such as vegan “burgers”, “sausages”, “steak”, or “escalope” in favour of alternatives like “veggie discs” or “fingers”. But they agreed by 386 votes to 290 (with Fine Gael support) to prohibit the use of dairy descriptions for vegan items, such as “butter substitute”, “imitation cheese” or “yogurt style”.

Labelling must still make clear produce does not contain meat – it’s not a question of 'passing off' or fraud on customers

Previously the union has banned terms such as “soy milk” and “vegan cheese”, the Court of Justice of the EU ruling in 2017 that non-dairy products can’t be described as milk and cheese, even with the preface tofu.

Ostensibly a bid to “protect customers” from confusion – “nonsense”, say consumer groups – the labelling proposal is in truth a desperate bid to protect market share in the face of the growth of veganism – sales of plant-based products have jumped 73 per cent in Europe over the past five years. The claim that labelling as a meat or milk alternative “disrespects” traditional farmers’ work and is what one farming representative called “the hijacking of the work done by the livestock chain over the years to develop their renowned products” is a little rich. Labelling must still make clear produce does not contain meat – it’s not a question of “passing off” or fraud on customers.

If farmers are worried about consumers, how about labels refering to the health or climate-warming effects of produce?

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.